Out of Steam

We are in the middle of the 2015 Winter Sale on Steam. And usually, I end up putting up a wishlist of what I hope goes on sale, and afterwards what I ended up purchasing. Before I wiped my blog and started fresh, there were a good dozen posts of this kind of thing. I have posted a pair of entries here with that exact information. Then Steam changed it’s sale tactics.

There were to be no more timed deals; instead games would just ‘go on sale’ for the full sale period “at their most competitive discount, before and after being featured[.]”

For the first time in almost six years, I’ve received more games, both in value and quantity, than I have bought myself. And that latter number currently stands at 1 (Chronicles of Mystara 4-pack to play with friends).

Steam have screwed up the very things that made them, frankly, better than other digital stores regardless of platform.

Valve will no doubt claim that this is better for the customer. They even state this in the press release that they sent out to everyone aside from their own users. This also simplifies the Steam Refund policy, as many refunds take place during sales when games receive a deeper discount during a Flash Sale or Daily Deal. Removing the fluctuating prices means less refunds to process. It also means that their servers receive less of a hammering during peak time. I doubt, unless Valve brings the timed sales back, that the joke in my ring of friends for calling Steam a slut for experiencing a heavy load will ever be uttered again.

The idea of buying everything on the last day of the sale if it hasn’t gone on Daily Deal or as a Flash Sale is also gone. After all, the games are on their deepest discount for the entire sale, right?

Um, no.

The beautiful thing about PC gamers is that we’re a penny-pinching lot. We complain when games go on sale the day after we buy them. But we also splash out on expensive machines to play the next big release. We penny pinch on games we’re not entirely sold on because we’ll buy the games we are entirely sold on at release. We use SteamDB to check previous sales prices. We find examples like Terraria or CAT Interstellar that are actually more expensive during this kind of sale than the previous ones. We find games that are not on sale one day, but are on sale the next like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (Ubisoft pulled this on each of the new-style sales).

That’s not to mention the actually illegal practice of increasing the base price of the game to give a seemingly deeper discount which is done by enough small developers to make it a ‘well known practice’, despite it being illegal in countries where Valve trades.

The PC platform doesn’t have the used game market issue that consoles have. With anyone being able to make a game for the platform, prices must be competitive, ideas must be fresh or evolved and so on. As PC gamers we experience sales with discounts that bring other gamers to our platform because of the relative cheap prices after the initial outlay of getting a PC, a cost swiftly becoming more comparative to a console upgrade with each generation. We used to trade that off with the inability to get a refund, or swap games with friends.

Valve is making a valiant effort to try to change that. We now have a Steam refund system, and bad games (for example, Arkham Knight) are getting removed from the Steam Store until they’re fixed in the wake of masses of refunds. We can now share (albeit temperamentally) libraries with family members or friends we trust.

But at the same time we’re trading in our savvy for naivety. We pre-order games more than ever now, knowing that we can refund it, thus the game companies can put a buggy game out there since it may require playing past the refund deadline to reach the game-breaking issue. We blithely assume that what Valve tell us is the truth, forgetting that the companies who’s product they distribute are amoral and only care about the bottom line; the same companies that consider 3.4 million copies of a game sold a “failure” are trying to recoup the inflated budgets using gamers’ wallets, in bad faith, to do so.

Here is where I would usually defend the independent scene, and praise Gaben for giving them a place to show off their product and make money from it. But titles I listed above are not big-name titles; they are independent products from small developers and they’re trying to bite the hand that feeds them. The minority of developers are getting all their ilk tarred with a brush that will stain them until their company is a fleeting memory, and on the Internet it only takes a few instances to change the opinion of everyone.

PC gamers don’t like being lied to. We stir up a hell of a riot when we’re pissed, and we’re starting on that path now.

I know this descended into a rant on the honesty of the games industry, but the point is valid. We’re being lied to by Valve; it objectively is not better for the customers. Their change in sale offerings means less load on their servers, both at the beginning and end of the sale, fewer refund requests from gamers that either listened to the gaming press (did Gamergate teach you anything?) or pre-ordered on blind faith in an amoral entity with proven track records, and an opportunity for developers to make more money by pretending it’s in our best interests. This all increases Valve’s bottom line. After all, they’re a company too.

Give me back the old sales; at least they gave me a reason to have the Steam app on my phone.

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